Deleted Scenes

In the initial pitching stage of The Heartbreak Cowboy, we toyed with the idea of introducing a love triangle troupe, but eventually, we decided to scrub it. Despite not making it into the final cut, I enjoyed writing the scene because it provided valuable insights into Nix's character and set the stage for his backstory in the upcoming Rebel Road series.

On a side note, a contest judge found this scene objectionable, expressing, "I find the idea of the heroine making a bet offensive and ludicrous. This was a DNF for me." It was a tough blow, impacting my chances in the contest and leaving me disappointed by the judge's reaction.

The Heartbreak Cowboy: Chapter Two- Deleted Scene

A soft ding coincided with Eleanor’s entrance into the Lucky Lizard. The electronic chime was as distinctive as the smell of leather, ink and antiseptic, which filled her nostrils. Despite its blood red walls, black tile floors and pencil sketches of busty half-naked women lining the entry, she felt at home in the tattoo shop.

Gabe Vega, the owner, glanced up with a bright smile. “Hey! Look who it is.” His Hispanic parents had blessed him with a handsome face, jet black hair and warm brown eyes. “Phoenix and the lovely Lady El,” his Spanish accent rolled the L’s.

 “Hi, Gabe.” Her greeting was less that jovial as she made her way to the back of the shop to take an empty chair.

His black brows arched up. “What’s the matter?” 

She plopped into the black leather chair with a long huff and eyed the man accompanying her as if he were a splinter.

Nix Rebel removed his shades and tossed them onto the workstation next to her. “She’s pouting, Gabe.” 

“Ah-oh.” Gabe went back to stuffing supplies into a drawer. “What’d you do to her?”

Nix held up both hands and looked as innocent as his sinfully sexy face could. “Nothing.”

Gabe lifted a skeptical eyebrow but kept silent.

Damn Nix and his sexy as hell, I-won- grin!

While losing any bet to Nix chapped her pride, she was ecstatic about the outcome. She was about to become part owner of the Rebel Road if she could come up with the money to finance it. Still, the thoughts of permanently inking his name into her backside was a bit degrading. “Out of all the bets we’ve made with each other, this one sucks the most, Rebel.”

“She called you by your last name, brother.” Gabe held up a hand for him to high-five. “You must have gotten her good this time.”

Nix slapped it. “I sure as hell did.”

The gold ring on Gabe’s hand reflected the florescent lights of the shop just before he covered it purple gloves. “Real men don’t wear purple, Gabe,” she teased.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she jabbed back. 

“Tell that to all the lovely ladies who visit my shop,” he gloated.

“You tell her, Gabe,” Nix joined in the word fray. Her tattooed compadre was a regular at the shop and had an assortment of Gabe’s beautiful artwork across his upper body. She suspected more of Gabe’s work was present on the lower half, but that was past the limits of their friendship.

Phoenix  Rebel was handsome, but not in the traditional sense. His trim beard and mustache, and rippling biceps decorated in ink made him appear more outlaw than a law-and-order cop. His rough and tough physic turned heads, and dark set eyes along with self-confidence gave him presence and commanded attention. He wasn’t arrogant or hasty, but he did have a temper if provoked.

“This was such a bad idea,” she groaned and asked a question she already knew the answer to. “Isn’t there some other way I can pay my debt? Wash your truck or cook your dinner for a month?”

Nix flashed his bright white smile in a way that pushed the edges of his thick auburn beard up and gave her a sexy wink. “You lost the bet, Sweet Pea.” He rubbed his large palms together and wiggled his brows up and down. “And it’s time to pay up.” With a twist of his finger, he ordered her over and laid the chair back. “Now, roll over and be a good girl.”

A good girl? He’s enjoying this way too much. She tugged the waist of her jeans down lower on her hips and rolled to her belly.  “Damn it.”         

Gabe sat down beside her and yanked out another glove. “Do you know you want?”

“Something delicate and feminine,” she suggested.

Nix squatted down at eye level with her, his eyes daring her to welch on their terms. “That wasn’t part of our bet.”

“Awe, come on,” she pleaded. Despite his large frame and ridged image of law enforcement and power, Nix was a pushover. Especially when it came to venerable women in need, and she was willing to bet her unmarked ass that he wouldn’t go through with the bet if she whined long enough.

“Nope, you’re not whining your way out of this one.” He raised. “Rebel, Gabe right across her ass.”

Okay, maybe not. Her ass was getting tattooed a Rebel!

Gabe hesitated with his usual dryness. “I’ve lost a few bets in my time, even have scars to remind me.” He stretched the glove over his knuckles with a pop. “But nothing as bad as having this guy’s name stamped across my ass.”

Across my ass? He’s not letting me out of this! She snapped to an elbow and pointed a finger at Gabe. “And that’s where I draw the line. Rebel’s name isn’t going on my ass.”

She flipped Nix a middle finger. “You know I hate you right now.”

His throaty laugh told her he was relishing the hell out of her unladylike gesture. “Lower back, if I’m the one to brand you.”

“Brand me?” She buried her face in the scant space between the chair and headrest. “Fine. Lower back.”

He tapped his friend on the shoulder. “I got this one, Gabe.”

Gabe vacated the stool. “No skin off my nose, man. Yell if you need anything.”

Nix sat down and stretched on a pair of gloves. “For four long years,” he snapped, the end of it in place. “I’ve tried to get you inked, and all it took was a wager.”

“Yeah, well,” she staggered through her acceptance. “I still haven’t figured out how you convinced Hank to make me a partner.” She flinched when he applied the alcohol to her lower back. “Is this going to hurt?”

“I know how to work my big bro,” he said and began applying the stencil he had printed out. “And the pain is excruciating. You might pass out. Are you ready?”

She smiled into the headrest. “Yeah, let’s get this over with.” After he finished with the stencil, she heard the buzz of the gun and felt the tiny pierce of the needle. Nothing she couldn’t handle, considering she’d given birth.

“Can I hitch a ride to work with you tomorrow tonight? I need to drop Old Blue off at the shop.” Her small sized compact was on his last leg when she bought him from a used car lot her junior year of high school. These days, the poor thing was limping by on three.

 “I’ll be there.” He always was. “When are you going to trade that piece of shit in?”

 “When I win the lottery.”

Minutes passed and the tattoo shop became a clutter of customers, Texas blues and the buzz of tattoo guns. The beat of the music stirred the excitement bubbling inside her. “How long is this going to take?”

“All damn day if you keep squirming. Be still and have some patience.”

It was hard to exercise patience. She’d lain awake all night thinking about how to come up with the money for her partnership and only one seemed doable. She had to apply for a loan and hope she got approved. “I’m going to the bank on Monday.”

“My offer still stands.” The custom motor business he and his brothers owned made him worth more than a cop’s salary.

“Thanks, but no thanks. This is something I want to do on my own with no strings attached.”

He paused, vexed by her words. “Nothing I offer you come with strings.”

“I know.”

He wiped the ink and went back to working on her tattoo. “It’s a loan between friends. Period.”

Friends. That’s all she and Nix had ever been. He came to her rescue nine months after she’d moved to Austin and hadn’t failed to do so since. Even then, their relationship had had the possibility of evolving into more, but she’d been too hurt to allow that to happen. Now, four years later, she was closer than ever to giving into the sexual relationship she knew he wanted. She was attracted to him. What woman wouldn’t be?

She lifted her head, propping her chin on the rest and gazing at him with the newfound admiration of a potential lover, as seen through the reflection in the floor-length mirror on the wall in front of her. He was built. There was no doubt there. Though his muscles weren’t formed from lifting bales of hay, wrangling cattle, or working on a ranch, they were impressive. Damn, impressive. Sculptured and hard from the gym. Flat abs, tight chest…. Yeah, sharing the sheets with Nix Rebel wouldn’t be a problem at all. Clearing the desire from her throat, she spoke. “How did a cop become such a talented tattoo artist?”

He pointed to the cross on the inside of his left forearm. “Got my first one when I was fifteen at a whorehouse in Nevada, after I lost my virginity to a blond named Melba.”

An uncontrollable giggle burst from her lips. “Oh, my god! You’re lying!”

“Am not. I’ll swear on a stack of bibles it’s the truth.” He smacked her ass. “Now, hold still. Anyway, that rite of passage kind of got me hooked. After high-school, I landed a job at a hole in the wall tattoo shop back home, and I worked there until I joined the Marines.”

He never talked about his life in Wyoming, the place he grew up, or why he left. And then there was the scar on the back of his head. A deep gash down the right side past his ear. It was his darkness and though she was curious, she’d never asked about it. She suspected there was a matching one on his heart. But that scar was like his tattoos, beyond the boundaries of their friendship.

 “You have such a dark and torrid past, Nix Rebel,” she said, halfway teasing. “I think that’s why women are attracted to you.”

His biceps rippled with the movement of his hands, and she marveled at the talent in them, having seen a blue butterfly he gave Rene, his girlfriend.

“Hmm…” his voice hummed. “Think so?”

“I’m sure that’s what Rene saw in you. Though she doesn’t seem like your usual type.” Rene was, in a word, plain. The lawyer from Dallas was a dark blond B cup with slim, pretty features.   

“No?” he asked, without much concern.

“Rene seems so sweet and innocent.”

“She was sweet, but far from innocent.” his low laugh had a growl to it.

“Ugh,” she made a gagging sound. “Spare me the details.”

“I don’t kiss and tell.”

“No, I imagine you don’t.” Rene was a regular at the bar, but she hadn’t seen her in weeks. “Where is she, anyway? I haven’t seen her around the bar lately.”

“I wouldn’t know,” he said flatly.

She twisted her head around to look over her shoulder at him. “Don’t tell me you broke it off.”

“We both knew it was time to move on.” That’s the way he always explained the end of his relationships, and she never asked question. His love life was his business. It was the fifth or sixth relationship he’d been in since they’d became friends.

“Can I have a butterfly too, like Rene’s?”

“A butterfly doesn’t suit you.” Nix paused to meet her eyes in the mirror. “Koi, I think.”

“A fish?”

“Two, actually.”

“The lover gets the pretty butterfly, while the friend gets a scaly fish,” she scoffed. “I see how it is.”

 “When we’re lovers, I’ll give you a butterfly. Anywhere you want it.”

And there it was. An open invitation to his bed.

His eyes found hers in the mirror, and his voice dropped a notch. “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it.”

Oh, she had and more than once. “The thought has crossed my mind, but that’s probably because,” she lowered her voice to keep the crowd from overhearing her confession. “it’s been a while since I’ve had sex.”

His eyes became almost predacious. “How long is a while?”

“Like I’m going to tell you.”

“Come on, spill it.”

He wouldn’t give her grief about not having sex but allowing him to see just how badly she’d been hurt made her uncomfortable. “The night I got pregnant with Sophie.”

“You haven’t had sex in four years?” his exploding voice brought heads around.

“Shhhh!” She smacked his thigh. “Lower your voice.”

“Shit, El,” he whispered back and the tattoo gun when silent. “What the hell happened?”

I got burned. Three words which countered the “I love you” she spoke the night she gave her virginity to a man who didn’t love her. McCrea Coldiron, her best friend's older brother. Jesus, how cliche did that sound? “It’s a long story.”

“This guy really did a number on you.”

With her chin resting on the headrest, she answered his reflection. “Yeah, I guess he did.”

The men in her life were few and far between. She had dates, several thanks to Tracey Rebel, Nix’s sister-in-law, but none of them ever made it past her bedroom door. And that was the way she wanted it. A nice dinner with aimless chit-chat and friendly smiles, helped her feel normal, and helped to placate Tracey’s concern. Her friend meant well. She reminded herself of that often, especially when Tracey tried to play matchmaker between the two of them.

Eleanor guessed she was something of an anomaly these days because she couldn’t sleep with a man she didn’t care for, and to care about them, she had to let them in. Into her life. Into her heart and into the safe, lonely life she’d made for herself. It was necessary for Sophie’s happiness. That’s what she told herself, but deep down she knew the truth behind the walls she’d built. She was afraid. Afraid of getting hurt- again. Afraid of trusting her heart to make the right decision. After its mega fail four years ago, she didn’t trust it to do anything other than love Sophie.

“We’ve all been hurt.” In his eyes was understanding. “But that doesn’t mean we stop living or loving.”

For all his muscle and brawn, Nix was tender and caring man. His very presence soothed her and, at times, persuaded her to bear more than she wanted to. He was doing that now, without a word, and a little piece of her needed to open up to him. To unload all the built-up anger and resentment of the last four years. But that wasn’t something she wanted to do. Nix was her friend, but more than that, he was a man she was attracted to. A man who was, for all intents and purposes in her life, and who knew, one day, they might be more than friends. So, dumping her emotional baggage in his lap wouldn’t be wise. It would make her vulnerable in a way she hadn’t been in a very long time. She trusted him- to an extent, but her guard refused to weaken. Damn, what was wrong with her? Was she that scared? How could one man, one cold man, make her so afraid to love again? The truth was, he couldn’t. McCrea was in her darkness. The hurt she never talked about. Her deep gash, but she was the only one standing in the way of her happiness. Sometimes she wondered if she’d ever be able to love again.

 “Have you ever wanted to forget something so bad because it hurts you, but you’re afraid of letting it go?” She grimaced and tried to hold back the tears that threatened. “God, that sounded so stupid.”

 “No, it didn’t. Pain can become a part of us and letting it go can be terrifying. It’s how we’re wired. We don’t know what to do without it.” There it was again. The hint into his darkness. Nix’s history with pain and loss. “But you can’t move on until you let it go.”

 “I’ve tried, but despite all I do, the past comes rushing back. I know I should just forget and move on. I’ve tried, Nix. I really have, but…”

“The heart always remembers, El.”

“Damn right it does,” she answered, quietly.

“You know,” he sighed and switched the gun on. “I’d like five minutes alone with the asshole who broke your heart.”

That wouldn’t be good. McCrea could give just as good as he got, and she doubted there would be a winner in the fight between the two of them. “I’d like that too. I’ll see what I can arrange.”

“I’m serious.”

“I know and thank you for wanting to fight that battle for me, but it’s something only I can do.” She lay her cheek on the rest as he went back to work on her tattoo. “Why Koi? Why not hearts or wings or- or anything but fish?”

“They represent courage and the power to overcome difficulties. And you, Eleanor Mackenna, have both.”

The power of his words found a spot in her heart. “Courage, huh?”

His brow knotted with deep concentration and thought about his art. “Yep.” 

There were no hidden agendas with Nix. What you saw was what you got. She had never caught him in a lie, and she never felt manipulated by him. And with that truth, she felt herself move a step closer to his bed. 

 “Finished,” he slapped her gently on the ass. “Get up and have a look.”

Elbows to knees, she came to her feet and looked over her shoulder at the mirror. The elegant font he used to spell out Rebel was beautifully feminine. “I like it.”

“See, losing a bet to me wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

“No, I don’t suppose it wasn’t.”

“My turn.” He kissed her quick on the lips, and yanked his t-shirt over his head, unveiling his beautiful body. The kiss wasn’t anything he hadn’t done before, but this time it caught her attention. It was different. He was different. She was different.

 She’d seen him shirtless before, at the pool, when he helped Hank in the garage, but she’d never noticed the tattoo under his left pec. She brushed a thumb over the tiny footprints. “Is this new?”

“No.” His smile wavered slightly before he turned to straddle the chair. “It’s an old scar. Gabe, you ready?”


Gabe gave the customer at the register his change and headed in their direction. He pulled on his gloves and took his seat. “Okay, El. Your name on his ass?”

She moved behind Gabe. “You know it, Gabe, but not on his ass. How about right across here?” A light brush of her finger trailed across Nix’s shoulders, caused his muscles to flex. “Where everyone can see it.”

“Don’t listen to her, Gabe. She’s a sore loser.” Nix grinned at her in the mirror. “I think I have her hooked, though. She’s coming back for a butterfly in a day or two.”

“Yeah, that’s how it happens. The first one always hooks you…” The wicked glance Nix shot at her drowned out Gabe’s voice. Never again would she see a butterfly as whimsical or innocence. The hunger in his eyes made it something completely different, and she felt way out of her league.

She took a seat across from the workstation and waited for Gabe to finish the tattoo. Two cups of strong black coffee and three hot rod magazines later, they were headed down the street to his truck.

“You’re awfully quiet. Something wrong?” he asked, while buckling his seatbelt.

“No,” she offered a little smile. “I’m just thinking.”

He turned the key. “About what?”


The Heartbreak Cowboy